Week of Proper 27: Saturday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  Constellation Perseus (February 1, 2011)

Image Source = Jet Propulsion Laboratory

“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear….”

NOVEMBER 18, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-16; 19:6-9 (Revised English Bible):

(Context = The Exodus from Egypt, beginning with the last plague)

All things were lying in peace and silence, and night in her swift course was half spent, when your all-powerful word leapt from your royal throne in heaven like a relentless warrior, bearing the sharp sword of your inflexible decree; with his head touching the heavens and his feet on earth he stood and spread death everywhere.

The whole creation, with all its elements, was refashioned in subservience to your commands, in order that your servants might be preserved unscathed.  They gazed at the cloud that overshadowed the camp, at dry land emerging where before was only water, at an open road leading out of the Red Sea, and a grassy plain in place of stormy waves, across which the whole nation passed under the protection of your hand, after witnessing amazing portents.  They were like horses at pasture, like skipping lambs as they praised you, O Lord, by whom they were rescued.

Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name;

make known his deeds among the peoples.

2 Sing to him, sing praises to him,

and speak of his marvelous works.

Glory in his holy Name;

let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Search for the LORD and his strength;

continually seek his face.

Remember the marvels he has done;

his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,

O offspring of Abraham his servant,

O childrenof Jacob his chosen.

37 He led out his people with silver and gold;

in all their tribes there was not one that stumbled.

38 Egypt was glad of their going,

because they were afraid of them.

39 He spread out a cloud for a covering,

and a fire to give light in the night season.

40 They asked, and quails appeared,

and he satisfied them with bread from heaven.

41 He opened the rock, and water flowed,

so the river ran in dry places.

42 For God remembered his holy word

and Abraham his servant.

43 So he led forth his people with gladness,

his chosen with shouts of joy.

44 He gave his people the lands of the nations,

and they took the fruit of others’ toil,

45 That they might keep his statutes

and observe his laws.


Luke 18:1-8 (Revised English Bible):

Jesus told them a parable to show that they should keep on praying and never lose heart.

In a certain city there was a judge who had no fear of God or respect for man, and in the same city there was a widow who kept coming before him to demand justice against her opponent.  For a time he refused; but in the end he said to himself, “Although I have no fear of God or respect for man, yet this widow is so great a nuisance that I will give her justice before she wears me out with her persistence.”  The Lord said, “You hear what the unjust judge says.  Then will not God give justice to his chosen, to whom he listens day and night?  I tell you, he will give them justice soon enough.  But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?


The Collect:

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Tradition holds that Jesus was born at midnight, hence Christmas Eve midnight masses.  Indeed, these are lovely services, and Christmas for me lacks something crucial without having attended one.  The midnight timeframe comes from a conflation of the Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-16, which speaks of the angel of death leaving to kill firstborn Egyptian sons, with the Lukan version of the birth narrative of Jesus.

“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” the great Christmas carol, features the traditional timeframe in its title.  This hymn dates to 1849, when Edmund Hamilton Sears, a U.S. Unitarian pastor who believed in the deity of Jesus, wrote the words.  (He published them the following year.)  Reverend Sears, who opposed recently-completed U.S.-Mexican War, included an antiwar message in the hymn:

And man, at war with man, hears not

The tidings which they bring;

O hush the noise, ye men of strife,

And hear the angels sing!

Focusing on this Christmas carol is appropriate here, due to the timing of this devotional–one day before Proper 28 and eight days prior to the First Sunday of Advent.  And, after Advent comes Christmas, of course.

The God of the Exodus and the Incarnation is active in human history.  This is the God who cares.  Psalm 14, in most English translations, states that a fool says, “There is no God.”  Yet TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures, the current translation from the Jewish Publication Society, renders that text to say that the fool states that “God does not care.”  I have concluded that caring is part of the divine character.  But, you might ask, why the difference in translations?  The rabbinical notes in The Jewish Study Bible mention that atheism was quite rare in the ancient Near East.  And a Presbyterian minister I know has mentioned to me the difficulty in translating much Hebrew.  “Translating Hebrew is a bear,” he said.

And God cares very much in the reading from Luke 18.  The judge was corrupt, rendering verdicts in response to bribes.  But the woman got her justice by merely threatening him with violence.  Jesus says, however, that we need not worry about whether God cares about us and will listen to us.  Indeed, the fact of our Lord’s existence in human form (the Incarnation) constitutes evidence of divine caring.  Maybe God says “no” or “not yet,” answers we might not like, but there is an answer.  Nevertheless, good things happen to good people.  The reality of the existence of God does not change that fact, but neither does it change the reality that God cares, that for God to exist is for God to care.

One of the major effects of prayer is to change the one who prays.  And prayer, of course, is far more than “talking to God;” it is also listening to God and acting according to divine commands.  In other words, prayer is responding positively to God.  Some years ago I heard an interview with a Roman Catholic priest on National Public Radio.  The good Father had taken Jesus at his word; the priest decided to visit a man in prison.  The priest chose to visit a death row inmate, a violent man who, in time, died by the authority of the state.  The inmate was just as violent and vile on the day he died as he was when the priest began to visit him, but the priest was a much better person for the visits.  He had followed his Lord.

Jesus breaks into our lives in ways and at times we might not expect.  We might not get a choir of angels, but, if we are sufficiently perceptive, we will hear and know the voice of God speaking.  God has not ceased to speak, and we ought to listen more often than we do.



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